Individual totalitarian dictators like Polpot who executed 1-3 million Cambodians, Adolph Hitler who annihilated almost 6 million Jews, Joseph Stalin starved almost 2 million Ukrainians to death, Mao Zedong who was responsible for the death of 40-70 million Chinese, not to mention the almost half-billion babies murdered through abortion in US and China alone combined. A time will come when all people around the world, Americans, Russians, Cambodians, Filipinos, Europeans, Chinese, South Africans, Mexicans, Arabians, Egyptians, Jamaicans, and others will face the judgment seat of Christ. They may get away from the imperfect justice system of man but never can they escape the divine judgment of God even when they die.
Those who embark on a works-based salvation mentality are already judge condemned to eternal damnation (torment) while genuine believers who have already experienced salvation will face the Bema judgment based on their good works to receive their rewards. In fact, the unbelievers are already suffering and being tormented in the fires of hell while you are reading this article. On the other hand, those who gave their life to Jesus Christ will receive some of the rewards below based on the following standards.
A. Crown of Life – This is for those who have overcomed testings, persecutions, and trials. (see Jam. 1:12)
B. Everlasting Crown – This is for those who have self-control in everything. (see 1 Cor. 9:24-25)
C. Crown of Joy – This is for those who has led people to Jesus Christ. (see Phil. 4:1; 1 Thess. 2:19)
D. Crown of Glory – This is for those who are taking care of God’s flock . (see 1 Pet. 5:4)
E. Crown of Righteousness – This is for those who are longing for Jesus’ second coming. (see 2 Tim. 4:8)
I agree that there is no sadness or depression in heaven but joy. However, this joy can be accompanied by regret if we have not done what we are supposed to do as believers here in this world for Jesus Christ. As the following authors very well explained,
“What if there are some Christians who do not get to rule with Christ, or are given lesser authority in the heavenly kingdom? They will not envy those above them. In fact, Jonathan Edwards says, in heaven we shall be so free of sin that we will rejoice in the exaltation of others as though it were our own! We will not regret that others are above us, but we will regret that we did not serve the Savior to the best of our ability.” – Erwin W. Lutzer, “Your Eternal Reward: Triumph and Tears at the Judgment Seat of Christ.”
“Joy will indeed be the predominant emotion of life with the Lord; but I suspect that, when our works are made manifest at the tribunal, some grief will be mixed with the joy, and we shall know shame as we suffer loss. But we shall rejoice also as we realize that the rewards given will be another example of the grace of our Lord; for at best we are unprofitable servants” — E. Schuyler English, “The Church at the Tribunal, ”Prophetic Truth Unfolding Today,” ed. Charles Lee Feinberg (Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1968), 29.
“The overwhelming emotion is joyfulness and gratefulness. Although there is undeniably some measure of remorse or regret, this is not the overriding emotion to be experienced throughout the eternal state.” — J. Hampton Keathley, III, “The Doctrine of Rewards: The Judgment Seat (Bema) of Christ.“ (Accessed Nov. 29, 2016, https://bible.org/article/doctrine-…)
“Now in heaven the hearts of the saints are not cold and hardened, so that they can look back on sins of omission without sorrow. I believe that in heaven the conscience will be extremely tender, for perfect purity would not be consistent with any degree of hardness of heart. If they are sensitive and tender in heart, it is inevitable that they would look back with regret on the failures of the life below unless some greater emotion overwhelms the emotion of regret. I can say, beloved, if God would take me to heaven this morning, and if he did not intervene, by a special act of his omnipotence and dry up that fountain of tears, I would almost forget the glories of Paradise in the midst of my own shame, that I have not preached more earnestly, and have not prayed more fervently, and have not labored more abundantly for Christ.” — C.H. Spurgeon, “No Tears in Heaven” (Aug. 6, 1865)
“Which raises the question: Is there regret in heaven? Can regret be part of the ever-increasing, unspeakable joy of the age to come, purchased by Jesus Christ (Romans 8:32)? My answer is yes. I am aware of the promises like Revelation 21:4, ‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ But I don’t think this rules out tears of joy, and it may not rule out regretful joy.” — John Piper, “Life as a Vapor: Thirty-One Meditations for Your Faith,” 19.
Are you investing in eternity? Are your time, energy, and finances connected to advancing God’s kingdom? Are you just working to be promoted? Are you into entrepreneurship just to expand your business? Are you getting married just to have your own family? Are you raising up kids just to prepare their future? Are you studying in that school just to take up a degree? Are you going abroad just for a greener pasture? Are you taking care of your body just to be healthy? Where’s Jesus Christ and discipleship in all of these? As Dr. Robert Jeffress states,
The apostle Paul is saying that at the judgment of Christ all Christians will feel overwhelming gratitude for escaping the flames of hell. But that gratitude will be tempered by a sense of loss as some believers will realized what rewards might have been theirs had they lived more faithfully for God. — Dr. Robert Jeffress,“Perfect Ending: Why Your Eternal Future Matters Today”
Even the late Dr. Albert Barnes, a theologian and a Bible commentator explains below the phrase “he shall suffer loss” in 1 Corinthians 3:15 from his “Notes on the Whole Bible,”
“(1) He shall not be elevated to as high a rank and to as high happiness as he otherwise would. That which he supposed would be regarded as acceptable by the Judge, and rewarded accordingly, shall be stripped away, and shown to be unfounded and false; and in consequence, he shall not obtain those elevated rewards which he anticipated. This, compared with what he expected, may be regarded as a loss.
“(2) He shall be injuriously affected by this forever. It shall be a detriment to him to all eternity. The effects shall be felt in all his residence in heaven – not producing misery but attending him with the consciousness that he might have been raised to superior bliss in the eternal abode – The phrase here literally means, ‘he shall be mulcted.’ The word is a legal term, and means that he shall be fined, that is, he shall suffer detriment.”
Remember, whether we like it or not we will be judged based on the word of God because of the things we have done as a believer.
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. – Revelation 20:12
Let me conclude by saying the Scripture tells us that a person who has faith in Jesus is justified freely by His grace. We are justified by faith, yes, but we will also be judged according to our works. There will be a time that the redeemed believer will face the Bema judgment seat of Jesus where all his works will be cross-examined.
God will cross examine every believer of that “work” (Gk. ἔργον) they thought they did for the Lord but originating from a wrong motive. Even Paul who thought he had a “clear conscience” also explained that God will one day cross-examine (judge) him saying, “I have a clear conscience, but that doesn’t mean I have God’s approval. It is the Lord who cross-examines me.” (1 Cor. 4:4, GNB)
Now, the first set of believers will receive their reward depending on how they served the Lord Jesus Christ thereby receiving commendation for their faithfulness while in their earthly bodies.
The second set of believers will not be empty handed but may receive another kind of reward much lesser than the former for the works they did on earth. It is like saying they receive a full glass of water but with different sizes.
While the third set of believers will only be saved from the fires of hell because they did not make themselves available for the Lord. Each of their earthly works will surely have eternal consequence to the point of regret.
On judgment day the feeling of joy and regret can be felt together in the heart of a believer. The duration of this mixed emotion was not fully specified in the Scripture except that many theologians would like to be comforted by Revelation 21:4. I understand that this topic is one that is not often talked about in the Christian circle. But I hope this knowledge of eternal reward and eternal consequence causing us to regret and the fullness of joy in Christ’s presence will encouraged us all to follow Jesus and reach out more people for Him in any way we can.
It is my hope that we will not do the things we are doing because of the reward alone but rather it is the love of Christ that will compel us to honor God and make disciples.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. — 1 Corinthians 9:24, ESV
“Listen!” says Jesus. “I am coming soon! I will bring my rewards with me, to give to each one according to what he has done. – Rev. 22:12, GNB
More Bible References: Rom. 3:24; 1 Cor. 3:13; Matt. 25:23; 2 Cor. 5:10; Lk. 19:16-19; Psa. 16:11; 2 Cor. 5:14